Amid Taiwan’s torrid summer heat, the island’s political temperature has been further raised by the controversy surrounding visits to China by senior-ranking retired national security officials. In early June, retired Taiwanese Air Force General Hsia Ying-chou was quoted as stating at a Beijing forum that “We should no longer make a distinction between the Republic of China Armed Forces and the [People’s Liberation Army]. We are all Chinese troops.” Although General Hsia denied making the remarks, legislators from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) called for him to be stripped of his pension and benefits, and President Ma Ying-jeou directed the Ministry of Defense to draft a “code of conduct” for retired defense officials visiting China (Kmt.org.cn, June 10).
This alleged incident emerged from an exchange between retired Chinese and Taiwanese military officers that began with a golf tournament in Sichuan Province from June 1 to June 4 and a visit to the Wenchuan earthquake site and followed by a seminar on cross-strait relations convened in Beijing on June 6th (Huangpu.org.cn, June 7; Taiwan News, June 8). This was the latest in a series of recent exchanges involving retired military officers from both sides of the strait. Retired Taiwanese military officers have visited China in an individual capacity for many years, but more organized exchanges between retired Chinese and Taiwanese flag officers—initiated primarily from the Chinese side—have expanded significantly in scale since 2009.
The Taiwan Ministry of Defense has publicly stated that it has not authorized the exchanges and has called upon retired officers to refrain from such visits, but has taken no action to stop them (Taipei Times, August 31, 2010). Taiwan press reporting indicates that U.S. officials have expressed concern to their Taiwan counterparts regarding the visits on the grounds that sensitive military information might be compromised or that back-channel negotiations might be conducted without U.S. knowledge (Taipei Times, August 31, 2010; Taiwan News, August 30, 2010).
Timeline of Cross-Strait Retired Officers’ Exchanges
Description of the Exchange
Retired Taiwanese generals take a golfing vacation in Guangzhou and Xiamen hosted by PLA counterparts.
Retired military officer exchanges are proposed by Chinese participants at conferences in Beijing and Taipei.
Retired General Hsu Li-Nung, former Director of the Taiwan Army’s Political Warfare Department, led a delegation of over 20 retired Taiwanese flag officers on a visit to Beijing and Shanghai. The delegation reportedly met with senior Chinese officials, including State Council Taiwan Affairs Office Director Wang Yi, Politburo Standing Committee Member Jia Qinglin and CMC Vice-Chairman General Xu Caihou. General Hsu stated the trip focused on establishing military confidence-building measures.
An estimated 50 retired Taiwanese officers and a delegation of 60 retired officers from the PLA attended the “Sun Yat-Sen Huangpu Cross-Strait Friendship Conference” in Taipei.
A delegation of retired Taiwanese flag officers traveled to Nanjing for the “Second Cross-Strait Retired Generals Golf Invitational” alongside Chinese counterparts. Xiong Guangkai, the former head of PLA intelligence, reportedly participated.
Huangpu Alumni Association Chairman Zhu Jingguang led a delegation from the China to Taiwan.
A delegation of over 20 retired Taiwanese officers travels to a Huangpu Alumni conference held in Nanjing.
A delegation of 31 members of the Kaoshiung “Central Military Academy Alumni Association” visited Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
A delegation of 11 members of Taiwan’s “China Huangpu Four Seas Fraternal Society” are hosted on a visit to Liaoning Province.
Four retired Taiwanese generals attended a conference and promotional event in Beijing regarding a new film about the 1927 Northern Expedition.
Retired Taiwanese generals from the Taiwan Strategic Studies Association are hosted for meetings in Beijing and a visit to the Confucius Temple in Shandong Province.
Retired Taiwanese generals attended the “Huangpu Spirit Cross-Strait Retired Generals Invitational Golf Tournament" in Sichuan and attended a conference in Beijing.
Sources: Lien Ho Pao (Taiwan); The Taiwan Link; China Times (Taiwan); Taipei Times; China Review News Agency; Taiwan News; Huangpu.org.cn
More recently, similar exchanges have involved retired Taiwanese intelligence officials. Taiwanese press has reported that in December 2010, two retired generals of Taiwan intelligence—Lieutenant General Hsu Ping-chiang of the National Security Bureau (NSB) and Major General Huang Chi-mei of the Military Intelligence Bureau (MIB)—led a delegation of 17 retired MIB officials on a trip to China (Taipei Times, January 10). The retired Taiwan intelligence officers were members the “Society of the Loyal and Righteous Comrades of the Republic of China” (Zhonghua minguo zhongyi tongzhi hui), which, according to its website, is a civic organization for Taiwan intelligence personnel founded in honor of the memory of General Dai Li, the head of the Kuomintang’s “Investigation and Statistics Bureau” (forerunner of the MIB). Responding to an invitation, the delegation visited Jiangshan City, Zhejiang Province, where they were hosted by local officials to include Jiangshan City Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman and United Front Work Department Director Zheng Chaoji. The retired Taiwan intelligence officers visited the former residence of Dai Li, viewed Dai-related exhibits in the Jiangshan City Museum and held discussions with local officials (Taipei Times, January 10; “Activity Highlights,” from Jyccroc.myweb.hinet.net).
Organizations Sponsoring the Officer Exchanges
The common thread in these officer exchanges is the sponsorship role of the Huangpu Academy Alumni Association (Huangpu junxiao tongxue hui). The Huangpu Alumni Association is nominally a civic organization in China for graduates of the Huangpu (Whampoa) Military Academy, an officers’ training college founded in Guangzhou in 1924 that produced many graduates who later became prominent figures in both the Kuomintang and Communist causes. The Huangpu link has long been a factor in Chinese outreach to Taiwan. When China’s “Nine Principles for Peaceful Unification” were unveiled in 1981, their leading spokesman was PLA Marshall Ye Jianying, a Huangpu alumnus with many old classmates in Kuomintang uniforms across the Strait.
Although it appears on the surface to be a privately organized, person-to-person initiative, the Taiwan officers’ exchange program is actually a project of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). The Huangpu Alumni Association is a thinly-disguised front organization operated by the UFWD. It is one of several entities identified by name on a United Front Work Department website as organizations managed by the UFWD. At a UFWD-hosted reception in January , UFWD Vice Director You Lantian praised the Alumni Association for its "outstanding achievements in Taiwan work," and expressed confidence that it would "continue to adhere to the policy of the central authorities for Taiwan work… and make new contributions for the peaceful reunification of the Motherland" (Huangpu.org.cn, January 25).
Furthermore, the Huangpu Alumni Association also shares the same contact phone number and address with an organization titled the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Unification. The Council describes itself as “a voluntary association of people from all walks of life who support reunification, with an independent legal status,” but this is a dubious assertion. The Council’s chairman is Jia Qinglin, the CCP Politburo Standing Committee member who is the senior-most official in overall charge of united front activities, and its executive vice-chairman is Du Qinglin, the Director of the United Front Work Department (Xinhua, March 16).
Additionally, a new organization emerged in 2011 as a sponsor of the officer exchanges, which also bears clear fingerprints of the UFWD. The Huangpu Alumni Association and the “Chinese Strategic Culture Promotion Association” co-sponsored the June 2011 conference in Beijing that produced the controversial alleged comments of General Hsia Ying-Chou (Taiwan News, June 8). Chinese media has described the latter group as made up of “experts, scholars, organizations and voluntary associations of social activists, together composing a national, non-profit social organization…[which] will put forward insightful counsel and suggestions to the central leadership and relevant government agencies.” Despite this depiction of the group as a civil society organization, it is also headed by senior CCP officials. The group’s executive vice-chairman is PLA Major General Luo Yuan of the Chinese Academy of Military Science and its president is Zheng Wantong, deputy chairman of the UFWD-controlled Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and former UFWD deputy director (Zhongguo Taiwan Wang, January 5; China Vitae).
In addition to the UFWD’s role in operating these organizations, the UFWD also has taken a more overt role in the Taiwan officer exchanges. Officials from the central UFWD and many of its regional branches have been involved as coordinators and hosts for sponsored trips of retired Taiwan officers throughout China. In one example, a visiting delegation of retired Taiwan officers traveling in northeast China in September 2010 was hosted by UFWD officials in each of five different cities that they visited (Haungpu.org.cn, September 9, 2010).
The Role of the CCP United Front Work Department
Inside China, the United Front Work Department (UFWD, tongyi zhanxian gongzuo bu) is the leading CCP organ for relations with groups outside the Communist Party. It operates state-controlled “mass organizations” such as the All-China Federation of Labor Unions and officially-sanctioned religious organizations. It also provides nominal “consultation” on government policy to selected groups via stage-managed fora, such as the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. In territories beyond Beijing’s control, the “united front tactics” of the organization seek to identify and win over influential people or civic groups to support the goals of the CCP and to “carry out [Chinese] foreign policy with nongovernmental (noncommunist) organizations…[it conducts] covert action by attempting to influence organizations in other countries in support of Chinese foreign policy objectives” (The Standard [Hong Kong], July 12, 2010) .
In pursuit of this, the UFWD takes a leading role in efforts to influence opinion in ethnic Chinese communities, to include self-described “worldwide united front propaganda work,” and coordinating “struggle against the activities of… hostile forces who seek to divide the motherland.” Historically, the UFWD also engaged in clandestine foreign intelligence work, propaganda and influence operations against Taiwan, including efforts to seed its personnel into Taiwanese society at the beginning of the cross-Strait intelligence contest.. A UFWD website hints obliquely at this role , stating the CCP’s designated tasks are to “Understand the situation, have a grasp of policy, adjust relationships and arrange for what is possible.”
Effects and Future Prospects of the Exchanges
The role of the UFWD in organizing the exchanges of retired Taiwanese military and intelligence personnel makes it clear that there is more going on than simple reminiscing over friendly games of golf. Chinese officials hope to use the exchanges to achieve a two-track set of goals. The first is to influence opinion in Taiwan’s elite circles of national security policy-making in favor of closer relations—and eventual reunification—with China. This facet of the program has been explicitly acknowledged by CCP officials. Jia Qinglin’s work report for the 2011 session of the CPPCC hailed “the [Huangpu] spirit as a bridge and link to increase the solidarity of Chinese sons and daughters and use cultural exchanges to cultivate in Taiwan compatriots the sense of being a part of the Chinese nation” (China Daily, March 3).
Retired security officials of mainlander heritage represent the constituency in Taiwan most likely to support reunification and could serve as willing conduits for CCP propaganda messages intended to manipulate public perceptions in Taiwan. However, this latter concern is tempered by the fact that the exchanges have thus far shown little impact on government policy and by the fact that younger national security officials in Taiwan may have very different outlooks from the aging mainlander officers who are the primary participants in the exchanges (Asia Times, May 3).
The second major goal behind the exchanges is almost certainly an effort to glean information of intelligence value and some commentators in Taiwan have expressed serious concerns about the exchanges on the grounds that sensitive national security information could be exposed (Taipei Times, January 10). Such concerns can only have been increased by the July 2011 conviction of Taiwanese Major General Lo Hsien-Che for spying for Beijing (China Times [Taiwan], February 9; Taipei Times, February 10). Although no longer in active service, retired generals and intelligence officials represent a highly valuable source of potential information for Chinese intelligence collectors—to include factors such as command and control relationships, contingency planning, the status of unit readiness and the personalities of senior officials—whether gained through direct recruitment, or more subtly through targeted elicitation.
These exchanges provide an illuminating look at some of the methods by which the CCP conducts intelligence collection and perception management operations directed at Taiwan, as well as its employment of front organizations that masquerade as civil society groups. It also reveals China’s efforts to cultivate selected political or economic elites to shape foreign perceptions. Regardless of the extent to which these efforts may or may not succeed in advancing the political goals of the CCP, the CCP United Front Work Department will almost certainly continue to expand its active outreach to retired Taiwan security officials. It will be up to Taiwan’s democratic process to decide where to draw the line between individual rights of expression and travel in a free society and the national security restrictions required to maintain those same freedoms.
- Nicholas Eftimiades, Chinese Intelligence Organizations, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1994, p. 109. The term “consultation” (xieshang) is the one used most frequently in UFWD sources to refer to its work on government policy with non-CCP groups: “Zhuyao Zhineng” (Major Functions), The United Front Work Department, https://www.zytzb.cn/09/introduce/200910/t20091010_577660.html.
- David Shambaugh, “China’s Propaganda System: Institutions, Processes and Efficacy,” The China Journal, No. 57, January 2007; “Zhuyao Zhineng” (Major Functions), United Front Work Department Website;; Andrew Nathan and Perry Link (ed.), The Tiananmen Papers, New York, NY: Public Affairs Books, 2001, pp. 158–159; and Roderick Macfarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, Mao’s Last Revolution, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006, p. 96; Henry Flooks, “Chinese Defections Overseas,” Studies in Intelligence, Fall 1965, declassified Sep. 18, 1995, www.cia.foia.gov.